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Hockey team proves economic rebirth is slippery slope

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It often seems that the road to a better Newark is an endless march of one step forward, two steps back.

Nowhere is that more the case than the Prudential Center and its most high-profile tenant, the New Jersey Devils. After the team had a banner year at the box office, capped by a trip to the Stanley Cup finals, the Devils watched as the league's commissioner, Gary Bettman, locked out the players for the third time in his tenure, sweeping about half the schedule into the trash before striking a deal that resumes play in Newark on Tuesday.

The result in Newark was a huge economic blow to the businesses that rely on the arena to draw the crowds. Plenty of observers point out that the only businesses that have benefited from the team's relocation to the downtown arena have been the bars and parking lots. But those bars employ plenty of people who were left presiding over empty dining rooms when games started disappearing from the schedule, and as big a deal as it was to land the Rolling Stones in December, that's only a couple nights of business to the nearby restaurants. One of the newest — a Dinosaur Bar-B-Que location in the arena's backyard — opened in the midst of a playoff run, with hundreds of eager customers showing up each night. Since then? Well, fortunately, it hasn't become extinct just yet.

That bad news has overshadowed what had been a feel-good story for the team and its host city: owner Jeff Vanderbeek's restructuring of the team's debt and assumption of sole control of the franchise. In slaying those demons, Vanderbeek ensured the financial health of his team and assured Bettman's league would not take it over. That's great news for a city that spent millions helping to build the arena, but it got lost in speculation that the entire hockey season would be scrubbed. Now, with that forward step, observers are waiting to see if the myrmidon fans bother coming back, after yet another work stoppage. If Newark's revival is to move ahead, the team must ensure it lures those followers back.

Correction appended: The Prudential Center has three tenants, the Devils, Seton Hall and Liberty. An earlier version had the wrong number of tenants.

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